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8:35 pm
June 15, 2017
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Glimpse The Future Of Predictive Maintenance

Critical-asset data can help identify failures before they occur to avoid downtime and protect the bottom line.

Catching problems in their earliest forms, no matter where in an operation they might arise, can help reduce downtime, costs, and risks.

Catching problems in their earliest forms, no matter where in an operation they might arise, can help reduce downtime, costs, and risks.

If you could see into the future, you would never miss a production target, endure a safety incident, or have a machine go down. Unfortunately, unless we somehow gain the power of clairvoyance, this fantasy will forever be out of our reach. While we may not be able to see into the future, we can predict it.

By adopting a predictive-maintenance (PdM) strategy, you can mine your critical-asset data and identify anomalies or deviations from their standard performance. Such insights can help you discover and proactively fix issues days, weeks, or even months before they lead to failures. This can help you avoid unplanned downtime, reduce industrial maintenance overspend, and mitigate safety and environmental risks.

The case for predictive maintenance

The sudden loss of a critical industrial asset can be devastating. It can result in unplanned stoppages and maintenance that eat away at your bottom line, while production remains at a standstill. This was the situation for one company operating an oil-sands mine in Canada. The company had to shut down the operation after detecting vibrations in an ore crusher, resulting in a weeks-long production stoppage that had been averaging more than 90,000 barrels/day. According to analysts, each week of downtime reduced quarterly production by about 1.5% and cash flow by about 1%.

Beyond the impact on production and profits, unexpected failures also can cause catastrophic events, such as explosions or chemical leaks, that threaten lives and the environment.

Many companies use robust industrial-maintenance programs and costly maintenance-service agreements to help avoid these issues. However, even the most comprehensive maintenance programs likely won’t eliminate all unplanned downtime. It can only take one failure to grind your operations to a halt for an extended period of time.

While technicians may not be able to actually ‘see’ into the future, smart technologies and advanced analytics can help them predict it.

While technicians may not be able to actually ‘see’ into the future, smart technologies and advanced analytics can help them predict it.

A smarter approach

Predictive maintenance delivers a more data-driven approach to industrial-maintenance programs. It uses predictive analytics and machine-learning algorithms, based on historical and real-time data, to identify specific issues on the horizon. Often these issues won’t show any physical signs of degradation—even a sharp human eye or an intuitive and well-trained maintenance technician wouldn’t be able to catch them.

In addition to helping prevent downtime, a PdM approach can better identify true maintenance needs. This can assist in making sure that you are targeting personnel depolyment, maintenance activities, and maintenance dollars where they are needed most.

Predictive maintenance can be especially useful in industries where the uptime of critical assets drives the bottom line. This includes large, heavy equipment in oil and gas, and mining operations, as well as critical machines in continuous-manufacturing operations.

A perfect example is a large, multistate compressor that experienced a bearing failure resulting in more than $3 million in maintenance and lost productivity. A postmortem on the incident, which involved reviewing 16 months of data, found that the bearing cooling system had not been operating correctly for six months.

Had this data been used as part of a PdM strategy, the company likely would have been able to identify the bearing degradation and its root cause before the failure actually happened. What’s more, the company would have been able to identify detailed preventive-maintenance steps for the cooling system.

Predictive maintenance also can be valuable in operations that experience high maintenance costs.

Often, companies can invest a lot of time and resources in maintenance but lack data to know whether their strategy is effective and addressing their actual needs. Predictive maintenance can help uncover unnecessary maintenance, which could save millions of dollars every year in some industries. This was another discovery in the compressor case. The company was performing certain maintenance activities that were unnecessary and could have been eliminated.

How it works

Predictive maintenance doesn’t require an extensive overhaul of your infrastructure. Rather, it can be deployed on your existing integrated-control and information infrastructure.

The process begins with discussions to identify what data you want to collect, what potential failures or other issues you want to predict, and what issues have arisen in the past. From there, the relevant historical data is collected from sensors, industrial assets, and fault logs.

Predictive-maintenance analytics software then examines the data to determine root causes and early-warning indicators from past downtime issues. Finally, the analytics software develops and deploys “agents” that monitor data traffic either locally or in the cloud.

Analytics software uses two types of agents. The first type is failure agents, which watch for patterns that are known to predict a future failure. If such patterns are detected, the agents alert plant personnel and deliver a prescribed solution.

The second type is anomaly agents, which watch normal operating patterns and look for changes, such as operating or environmental-condition changes. These agents also alert personnel of any detected changes so they can investigate and take corrective action if necessary.

Your crystal ball

Predictive technology has been around for decades. It’s used to detect credit-card fraud, fine-tune marketing programs, and even help us search the Internet. Its role in the industrial world takes the form of a rigorous documentation of events and failures that can help us see and address machine or equipment issues in their earliest forms.

Many manufacturers already see the value of historical failure reports as a tool to help prevent failures and downtime in the future. By using this data, which already exists in your assets, you too can reduce downtime surprises, cut down unnecessary maintenance, and potentially reduce risks in your operations. MT

Information for this article was provided by Doug Weber, engineering manager, and Phil Bush, remote monitoring and analytics product manager, Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee. For more information, visit


8:21 pm
June 15, 2017
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Counterfeit Parts: Dangerous and Costly

Is your site putting personnel safety at risk and fueling downtime with the repair parts it buys? 

Bearings abstract composition

By Wally Wilson, CMRP, CPIM, Life Cycle Engineering (LCE)

Counterfeits show up in all areas of our daily lives, from name-brand clothing and accessories to electrical components and repair parts for industrial maintenance. According to the United States Chamber of Commerce (, Washington), counterfeit goods cost the American economy more than $400 billion annually. While items such as fake Rolex watches and fashion knock-offs may not pose a danger to the user, they’ll typically lack the level of performance genuine products would provide. Counterfeit maintenance, repair, and operational (MRO) spare parts, however, can create a serious hazard for equipment systems and facilities, and, most important, the personnel that work with and around them.

The bad news is your operations could be buying and using counterfeit parts and not know it. Counterfeits (or fakes) can look so much like original parts in their packaging, graphics, and engraved identification markings, that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish them from the real thing. The increasing flow of fake, after-market bearings from China and other Asian countries is a good example of this dangerous supply-chain situation. These items continue to create enormous headaches for major bearing manufacturers such as SKF, NSK, and Timken, among others. Many imported counterfeit bearings even come with phony certificates proclaiming that the items were manufactured in the USA and meet specified standards for American-made products.

The main source for counterfeit parts is the Internet, including websites such as eBay and Amazon. This is the first stop for many maintenance planners, given the difficulties in finding what may be categorized as “obsolete” parts for older equipment. Not buying parts on the Internet isn’t the solution, though. Fakes have also infiltrated the supply chain of some of the most trusted distributors.

Alas, maintenance and procurement managers often view the counterfeiting threat as a minor concern. When a bearing fails in a pump or small motor, there’s usually no safety risk, and the collateral damage can be minimal. When it comes to equipment failures in larger components, such as compressors, large-drive motors, and other major process equipment, counterfeits reflect a definite risk of injury to personnel, including operators and maintenance technicians. Sadly, increasing quantities of large-sized counterfeit bearings are said to be showing up on equipment in a wide range of today’s industrial operations.

Distinguishing ‘real’ from fake

The drive to reduce maintenance cost and equipment downtime will sometimes cause buyers who are sourcing parts for equipment repairs to engage suppliers that sell these items at low prices. The cost-reduction pressure has opened the door for the entry of substandard parts into the MRO supply chain and, ultimately, too many plant storerooms. The result is a seemingly neverending, vicious cycle. Installed on equipment, the counterfeits deliver shorter-than-expected service life, emergency calls to address equipment failures increase, and the culture of a maintenance department becomes (or remains) reactive.

In most cases, original replacement parts, if they are installed correctly and maintained properly, will perform longer and better than counterfeits. Reliability engineers and maintenance planners should be tracking the service life of all installed components and parts. Take, for example, a motor bearing with an expected service life of 60 months that’s only lasting 30 months or less. The equipment’s maintenance history can be a clue that you’re using substandard parts.

Other aspects to track or monitor in determining if counterfeits are being used include MTBR (mean time between repair) or MTBF (mean time between failure). Many organizations are implementing RCM (reliability-centered maintenance) programs to manage their production equipment. The problem, in many cases, is that they’re not using the data from these analyses to create valid strategies to address the root cause of their equipment failures, which might be associated with counterfeits.

Risk/Reward 101: Gambling on unknown suppliers can be a dangerous, often very costly game. Certifying a primary supplier provides the most effective preventive measures for ensuring that spare parts are genuine and will perform as expected.

Risk/Reward 101: Gambling on unknown suppliers can be a dangerous, often very costly game. Certifying a primary supplier provides the most effective preventive measures for ensuring that spare parts are genuine and will perform as expected.

The results of a root-cause analysis could also be an indicator that additional training is required. Alignment, lubrication, and preventive monitoring are areas that should have standard procedures to ensure the equipment is installed, operated, monitored, and maintained the same way by all of the maintenance technicians, which is crucial in combating counterfeits.

Monitoring the TCO (total cost of ownership) of equipment is also helpful. It can provide a business-case justification for upgrading to new technology or modifying current equipment to eliminate the need to embark on a treasure hunt for obsolete parts every time the need arises.

Note: In the case of bearings, whenever there’s an indication that a failed component is a counterfeit, legitimate suppliers can conduct an analysis to determine the cause of the failure and validate the part as original or counterfeit.

Reducing counterfeit risks

Don’t be complacent. If you understand the health of your equipment and you have trusted/certified suppliers, the risk of getting counterfeit parts is greatly reduced. Plant personnel, however, still must remain vigilant. Consider purchasers at a major aircraft manufacturer who thought they were buying name-brand ball bearings produced by a trusted American manufacturer, only to learn differently. The sub-standard imported products, i.e., fakes, were discovered during a positive material identification (PMI) inspection during the storeroom receiving process and a potential catastrophe was avoided.

The earlier in the MRO supply chain that counterfeit parts can be identified, the lower the risk the parts will get into your storeroom and production equipment.

Certifying a primary supplier for needed spare parts provides the most effective preventive measures for assuring that procured parts are genuine and will perform as expected. Keep in mind that we make suppliers reactive when we don’t properly maintain equipment.

In summary

When you understand the health of your equipment, it is much easier to implement a proactive maintenance program that reduces reliance on Internet and excessive expedited purchases. Being able to plan and schedule equipment downtime for repairs allows your suppliers to be true partners in your MRO supply chain. We expect our trusted suppliers to solve our problems and get parts to us quickly. If, for some reason, they can’t, sites may put their operations at risk by gambling on unknown sources. In the end, that can be a dangerous, very costly game.

It’s important for maintenance departments to never let their guards down.

Stay alert. Among other things, monitor equipment-repair histories and key performance indicators. Check your spare-parts inventory to make sure you don’t already have counterfeits in your storeroom, and that your procurement processes aren’t opening the door to new ones. Finally, always remember this: Deals that seem too good to be true can come back to haunt you. MT

Wally Wilson is a senior subject-matter expert in materials management and work management, planning, and scheduling with Life Cycle Engineering (, Charleston, SC. He can be contacted at



8:12 pm
June 15, 2017
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Manage Used and Waste Oils Wisely

Heed these tips to simultaneously befriend your budget and the environment.

This storage area for used and waste oils is problematic.

This storage area for used and waste oils is problematic.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK), CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

There was a time when the terms “used oil“ and “waste oil” meant the same thing and could be used interchangeably. Not anymore. Federal, state, and local environmental regulations have effectively redefined both terms as distinct oil states that must be dealt with in very different ways. Because legislation differs among authorities and jurisdictions, it’s the responsibility of plant owners/operators to contact appropriate authorities for clarification on regulations under local law regarding the definition, management, and disposal of the used and waste oils at their sites.

Identifying ‘used’ oil

Used oil is generally defined as a product refined from crude oil or any synthetic oil that has been used and, as a result of such use, is contaminated and unsuitable for its original purpose due to the presence of impurities (water or dirt) or the loss of original properties (through loss of additives).

Like virgin stock oils, used oil should be thought of as a resource that can be reprocessed in situ with an industrial filter cart to clean and polish the oil while it’s in the machine reservoir. Or, it can be shipped to an oil recycler where it will be treated using settling, dehydration, filtration, coagulation, and centrifugation to remove contaminants and, if needed, refortified with its required additive package and placed back into service—all at a fraction of the cost of new oil, with no disposal management and associated fees.

Alternatively, used oil can be re-refined into lubricant or fuel oil products that can legally be sold as new oil. Re-refined products must be processed to meet the same stringent requirements and standards set for their virgin-oil counterparts. Once the re-refining is completed, the products are considered brand new oils.

Less expensive to manufacture and purchase, re-refined products conserve virgin-oil stocks—10 barrels of crude are conserved for every barrel of re-refined new oil made from used oil—and minimize the negative environmental impact of oil disposal.

Typical used-oil candidates for re-refining include:

• compressor oil
• electrical insulating oil (except that likely to contain PCBs)
• crankcase (engine) oil
• gear oil
• hydraulic oil (non-synthetic)
• industrial process oil
• neat (undiluted) metalworking fluids and oils
• refrigeration oil
• transfer oil
• transformer oil
• transmission oil
• turbine oil.

In some jurisdictions, used oil is allowed as a fuel oil and can be burned for heat.

Although used oil is generally considered a commodity, in a handful of states it is viewed as a hazardous material and, as such, must be treated as hazardous waste when stored for disposal. Plants must check with their local authorities in this regard.

Identifying ‘waste oil’

Waste oil differs from used oil in that it reflects new oil that has become contaminated and, consequently, is deemed no longer useful for service. In the view of many jurisdictions, such oil is a hazardous waste. Used oil, cross-contaminated with chlorinated products or other chemical products, must be treated as a hazardous liquid and disposed of accordingly. Once again, it’s imperative for facility personnel to check with their local authorities to understand the legislative definitions and requirements.

Management tips

Collecting used and waste oil on site is a natural occurrence in any industrial plant and allowable in all jurisdictions. There are, however, regulations regarding its labelling, storage, spillage, and disposal.

The photo above reflects a typical outdoor storage area for the collection of used and waste oils in a plant. Although it shows a designated area, it exposes a very poor—and expensive—oil-management approach that contravenes most of today’s regulations in the following ways:

Used- or waste-oil tanks must be clearly labelled and accessible.

The tanks in the photo are grated pits that would be classified as confined spaces and not allowed in many jurisdictions. Only one of these two restricted-access pit tanks is labelled as “Waste Oil,” a fact that’s partially obscured by the barrels.

Given the proximity of the two pits to each other, poor access to the rear one, and their uncontrolled exposure to outside elements, most regulatory agencies would probably classify oil pumped from both of those tanks as hazardous waste, requiring costly disposal procedures.


• Decommission the pits.
• Install two above-ground steel tanks in accordance with regulations, designating each separately for used oil and waste oil. For correct tank sizing, work with your oil-disposal company to ascertain its minimum and maximum haulage capability.
• Clearly label each tank in accordance with local regulations.
• Move tanks into a controlled indoor space or cover the area  to protect from outside elements.
• All tanks are to be bunded (placing the tank inside a leak proof bermed concrete, asphalt, or steel/plastic catch-basin control area. The bund must equal or exceed the volume of the largest tank in that bunded area.
• Padlock tanks shut when not in use.

Dedicated oil-transfer containers must be used to control cross-contamination.

In the photo example the company has a variety of different-sized open pails containing non-descript oils and what appears to be a white chemical product. Once again, all of those fluids are exposed to the elements and to each another. That automatically makes all of them hazardous waste. The only way to be sure used oil does not become contaminated with hazardous waste is to never mix it with anything else and store used oil separately from all solvents, chemicals, and other incompatible products.


• List all oil and non-oil products used in the plant and work with your oil-disposal partner to decide which products are to be treated as recyclable used oil, waste oil, and hazardous materials (chemicals and non-oils).
• Use closed, dedicated containers for used oil, waste oils, and other products stored in the same area.
• Log any bulk transfer of oils into the tanks.
• Record all products being held in the area on a manifest and log their release to the disposal company.
• Retain all records in a accordance with the company’s record-retention schedule.

Spill controls are mandatory.

Although the photo above also shows evidence of a contained spill around the oil pallet, the contaminated spill material hasn’t been removed and is itself an uncontained, contaminated oil product.


In accordance with most safety legislation, every oil-storage facility will generally be required to have and keep the following information and equipment up to date:

• spill contingency plan and procedures
• spill-control equipment
• fire plan
• emergency-evacuation plan.

If a site’s oil-storage building is indoors or in a closed area, it will require ventilation as regulated by local building codes.

The cost of doing business

Disposing of hazardous waste can be time-consuming and costly. Research local oil recyclers and hazardous-waste haulage companies to determine what they charge for their services. Some will handle both oil reclamation and disposal of hazardous waste. Such organization should be able to work with your site to set up a value-based program that adheres to all local regulations. MT

Editor’s Note: Recycling and disposing of old oil is closely associated with lubrication-consolidation efforts in a plant. This feature addresses that topic with insight from Des-Case.

Contributing editor Ken Bannister is co-author, with Heinz Bloch, of the book Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities, 3rd Edition (The Fairmont Press, Lilburn, GA). As managing partner and principal consultant for Engtech Industries Inc. (Innerkip, Ontario), Bannister specializes in the implementation of lubrication-effectiveness reviews to ISO 55001 standards, asset-management systems, and development of training programs. Contact him at or telephone 519-469-9173.

learnmore2“Store and Handle Lubricants Properly”

“Put Portable Filter Carts to Work”


8:06 pm
June 15, 2017
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Optimize Your Belt-Conveyor Systems

How well you treat these industry workhorses affects how long, how safely, and how cost-effectively they’ll run.


Belt-conveyor systems are used for a wide range of purposes. Regardless of the application, minimizing the cost per ton to move material and items without compromising safety, product integrity, and efficiency is accomplished by harnessing the best available technologies and maintenance practices.

Preventive maintenance

Developing and implementing practical preventive-maintenance (PM) programs that have measurable results is key to reducing costs and maximizing your cost per ton. Continual daily upkeep is critical to extending conveyor belt and component life.

The entire system, including the belt, idlers, pulleys, frame, and accessories, should be included in the maintenance program. Routine system inspections, designed to encompass all aspects of each conveyor will help identify issues that, if not addressed and corrected, will cause catastrophic component failure, resulting in ancillary damage and potential safety hazards.

Prior to any inspection, perform appropriate lockout/tagout verification procedures. Ideally, the conveyor system is shut down and empty. This allows inspectors to check for damage to all components, including the belt and splice. Any damage noted during the inspection should be repaired as quickly as possible to prevent further degradation.

Keep in mind that the following checklists are general guides, and not all-inclusive. The key words are clean and operational. Pulleys or idlers that have material build-up on them will cause tracking problems. The same can be said for pulleys with uneven lagging wear. Belt-cleaning devices or systems, plows, and self-aligning idlers must be operational to perform their tasks. Belt damage, pulley damage, and tracking problems will result if these accessory components are not maintained.

Shut-Down-Conveyor-Inspection Checklist. A typical maintenance-inspection walk-through of a shut-down conveyor should include, but not be limited to, the following 19 items:

  1. Perform the lockout/tagout (LOTO) verification procedure.
  2. Identify safety hazards.
  3. Complete belt inspection.
  4. Inspect head pulley and/or drive pulley for damage, cleanliness, and worn lagging.
  5. Inspect for proper lubrication of bearings and mechanical devices.
  6. Inspect for the presence of material build-up and trapped material.
  7. Inspect skirting in the loading area for proper adjustment and condition.
  8. Inspect impact/slider bed or impact idler for damage and cleanliness.
  9. Inspect return- and carrying-side idlers for damage, cleanliness, and free-turning.
  10. Inspect all self-aligning idlers, both carrying- and return-side to ensure they are capable of operating (actuating from belt friction) and not tied off.
  11. Inspect for cleanliness of primary and secondary loading station.
  12. Inspect trippers to ensure they are clean and operational.
  13. Inspect structure/frame for integrity and alignment.
  14. Inspect tail-pulley condition.
  15. Inspect head-pulley cleaner to ensure it is operational.
  16. Inspect head, bend, and snub-pulley condition.
  17. Inspect the clean and operating take-up.
  18. Ensure plow (V-guide or angle) is operational.
  19. Ensure all bearings are clean and capable of operating.

Once inspection of the shut-down conveyor is completed, confirm that all personnel, tools, and equipment are clear of the system and accounted for to avoid injuries or damage to the equipment when it is restarted. Next, energize the system and let it run empty to ensure proper belt tracking. Perform another visual walk-through and listen carefully to make sure there are no unusual noises, which could indicate idler or bearing failure or rubbing of the belt against the conveyor structure. Be sure the belt is running reasonably well before introducing a load and conducting the next inspection. Note that empty and loaded conveyor systems may track differently. Furthermore, remember that any component with which the belt comes in contact will affect its tracking.

Loaded-Conveyor Checklist.

A typical maintenance-inspection walk-through of a loaded (running) conveyor system should include, but not be limited to, the following 13 items:

  1. Inspect for satisfactory tracking along the belt’s entire length.
  2. Inspect for and ensure there are no bearing noises.
  3. Inspect for primary and secondary loading-station spillage.
  4. Inspect carrying-side idlers to ensure they are turning freely.
  5. Inspect self-aligning carry idlers to ensure they are functioning (actuating from belt friction).
  6. Inspect for excess material spillage.
  7. Inspect head and/or drive pulley, snub, and bend pulleys to ensure they are running smoothly with no slippage.
  8. Inspect belt cleaners to ensure  they are functioning.
  9. Inspect return idlers to ensure they are clean and turning freely.
  10. Inspect tail pulley to ensure that it is turning freely without product build-up or carryback.
  11. Inspect take-up pulley to ensure it is turning freely without bearing noise, is clean, and moving freely in the frame.
  12. Inspect for belt tracking, in general.
  13. Inspect plow (V-Guide or angle) to ensure it is operating properly.

Following completion and documentation of these inspections, a corrective-action plan should be implemented. Any safety concern must be addressed immediately, including, among other things, installation and/or repair of conveyor crossovers, safety-stop cables, failed holdbacks on incline conveyors, misalignment switches, motor guards, hand rails, and cleaning of walkways.

Conveyor housekeeping

The importance of clean conveyor systems can’t be overstated. Cleanliness is a safety issue. Premature conveyor belt wear, idler and pulley failure, along with structural damage to the conveyor frame are all indicators of a system experiencing significant carry-back and fugitive-material contamination. Product build-up on return-side pulleys and idlers not only reflects a housekeeping issue, it can lead to belt-tracking problems and added stresses on the splice. If a belt isn’t clean on the return flight, any pulley that comes in contact with the belt’s carry side will accumulate product.

Material build-up on a belt and components doesn’t simply cause tracking problems. It could bring a system to a grinding halt, costing the operation countless dollars in lost material, downtime, clean-up, damage to the system, and, potentially, personal injuries. A clean conveyor system is not only a safer system, it can maximize your cost per ton.

Primary and secondary belt-cleaning systems at the discharge area and plows in front of the tail pulley are essential to reduce damage to the components. Sticky materials present a real challenge when it comes to preventing carryback. A well-engineered and maintained cleaning system to minimize carryback will reduce associated cost. Some variables to consider when designing and installing a cleaning system include the material to be conveyed, environmental and operational factors, and belt type and condition.

Conveyor safety

It’s a given in any plant: Safety should be the number one priority of all owner/operators and workers, and an integral part of the workplace culture. Zero is the only number acceptable for incidents and accidents. Safe habits take effort to develop, and are less likely to be broken when developed. Once a culture of safety is established in any organization, it will perpetuate itself.

Constantly pay attention to your work environment and those working around you. This situational awareness could prevent a possible accident before it happens and save you and the organization unwanted pain and expense. When it comes to conveyors, keep these basic safety tips in mind:

  • Always perform proper lockout/tagout verification procedures.
  • Use only trained and authorized maintenance and operating personnel.
  • Keep clothing, fingers, hair, and other body parts away from moving conveyor parts.
  • Don’t climb, step, sit, or ride on conveyors.
  • Don’t overload conveyors.
  • Don’t remove or alter conveyor guards or safety devices.
  • Know the location and function of all stop/start controls and keep the locations free of obstructions.
  • Confirm all personnel are clear of a conveyor before starting or restarting it.
  • Keep areas around conveyors clean and clear of obstructions.
  • Report all unsafe practices to a supervisor.  MT

Information in this article was provided by Don Sublett of Motion Industries (Birmingham, AL). Sublett has worked in areas of conveyor-belt design and service since 1976 and is an active member of various professional associations in the field. For more information, visit or see the Mi Hose & Belting video here.


3:56 pm
May 15, 2017
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Training, Automation Drive Extrusion Reliability

(All photos courtesy of Aquatherm.) When designing the new extrusion plant, the team needed a solution to how best deliver the cooling water for the extrusion process. After some creative design work, it was decided to create a 300-ft.-long tunnel under the facility, specifically for this purpose.

When designing the new extrusion plant, the team needed a solution to how best deliver the cooling water for the extrusion process. After some creative design work, it was decided to create a 300-ft.-long tunnel under the facility, specifically for this purpose. All photos courtesy of Aquatherm.

German-based Aquatherm provides reliable, sustainable pipe production as a result of advanced technology, automation, and in-house design and innovation.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

As one of the first three companies in the European market to manufacture under-floor heating systems, German-based Aquatherm, headquartered in Attendorn, has come a long way since the company was founded 44 years ago. It now leverages state-of-the-art automation and innovative energy-saving systems to drive its reliability and sustainability programs.

“Until a few years ago, maintenance employees needed to localize and correct a fault indication directly at a machine if a system error occurred,” explained Aquatherm’s Maik Rosenberg, the company’s global co-managing director. “Power converters and frequency converters could only be parameterized manually or adjusted by potentiometers. Now, we can access the central control from various places within the company. If needed, we can access every single drive of an extrusion line.”

Maintenance staff members can correct faults using smartphones and also receive repair orders directly from a tablet. They use the handheld technology to recall all the information needed for order fulfillment in a central folder, and then take advantage of the ability to choose required materials from its digitized stock inventory.

“It is possible to operate all our machines online through our production-activity control system,” Rosenberg said. “The system enables us to monitor the energy consumption of all the machines and their components.”

The use of automation has enabled Aquatherm to establish itself as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of plastic piping systems for heating, cooling, domestic water, industrial, and sanitary applications. The company was founded in 1973 by Gerhard Rosenberg for the development, production, and installation of warm-water, under-floor heating.

In 1980, the company developed the plastic pipe system Fusiotherm, which is made of polypropylene-random (PP-R) for sanitary equipment and heating installations. This innovation has been the foundation of Aquatherm’s continuous growth. The company has developed into a global business that is represented in 75 countries and is a market leader in many sectors and application fields.

Aquatherm employs almost 600 employees within the group of companies. In 2016, it manufactured more than 40,000 km of pipe and 50-million molded/fabricated components out of 18,000 ton of raw materials.

In April 2017, Aquatherm opened a state-of-the-art 160,000-sq.-ft. facility in Attendorn that features 19 extrusion lines. The building has been designed and constructed to offer space for a total of 32 production lines, underscoring the company’s commitment to future growth.

Aquatherm North America (Aquatherm NA) was established roughly 10 years ago as a sales, marketing, and support partner and operated independently until late 2015 when Aquatherm Worldwide assumed control of the North American companies Aquatherm LP (U.S.) and Aquatherm Corp. (Canada). North American operations are based in Lindon, UT, and feature a new 82,000-sq.-ft. facility that opened in April 2017. All corporate departments are housed in this facility, along with a cutting-edge Design and Fabrication Services department and quality-assurance laboratory.

This is a portion of the process-cooling system for Aquatherm’s new extrusion lines. Aquatherm pumps more than 121-million gal. each year from the Bigge River at temperatures from 50 F to 57 F. By German law, the water returned to the river can be no more than 73.4 F. The firm has three water loops running through heat exchangers—process cooling, electric-motor cooling (the largest motor is 800 kW), and heat recovery for space heating and domestic hot water.

This is a portion of the process-cooling system for Aquatherm’s new extrusion lines. Aquatherm pumps more than 121-million gal. each year from the Bigge River at temperatures from 50 F to 57 F. By German law, the water returned to the river can be no more than 73.4 F. The firm has three water loops running through heat exchangers—process cooling, electric-motor cooling (the largest motor is 800 kW), and heat recovery for space heating and domestic hot water.

Maintenance best practices

Aquatherm’s maintenance team includes 40 specialized workers—metal workers, electricians, and machine fitters. Most are maintenance foremen and technicians. Consistent and regular training is the key to keeping the team up to date with the latest technologies.

“Our maintenance workers are trained regularly, both in-house and externally,” Rosenberg said. “We empower them to perform their tasks as efficiently and quickly as possible.

The operations and maintenance teams work closely together. Short distances between the different departments make it easy to react quickly to challenges and encourage cooperation and information exchange between team members. Aquatherm is committed to keeping most of the maintenance of its equipment in house. “It is part of our company culture to do as much of our maintenance in house as possible with our highly qualified staff,” Rosenberg said. “We have a staff design team, which uses CAD to design our extrusion and injection-moulding tools. The tools are then manufactured in our tool shop. For us there is great value in using our own experienced staff to design special tools. This allows us to be highly flexible. We can react to new requirements quickly and appropriately while ensuring we preserve our high standards.”

Automation and advanced technology continues to play a key role.

“One good example of how our maintenance team made a difference for our production department and helped us to save costs is the installation of an additional measuring device at the beginning of our extrusion lines,” Rosenberg explained. “The device measures the pipe diameter and compares the pipe’s actual value with standard values. Previously, we only had a measuring device at the end of the production lines. With the new device installed at the beginning of the line, we can react immediately to variations and adjust the machine settings, as necessary. This is a simple but smart solution that has helped us reduce machine setup times and increase product quality.”

Aquatherm’s new extrusion lines operate three shifts a day, and ran for more than 340 days in 2016. Aquatherm engineers designed everything in the plant itself, including the control systems. The firm designs, builds, and automates their production lines, rather than purchasing complete lines, which may not be optimized for their product lines. Because they had to maintain production, it took 10 months to move the lines from the old building into the new building.

Aquatherm’s new extrusion lines operate three shifts a day, and ran for more than 340 days in 2016. Aquatherm engineers designed everything in the plant itself, including the control systems. The firm designs, builds, and automates their production lines, rather than purchasing complete lines, which may not be optimized for their product lines. Because they had to maintain production, it took 10 months to move the lines from the old building into the new building.

Building for growth

Planning and development of the new extrusion production facility was done in-house with a team of experts. From the initial planning phase, all participating departments were involved—extrusion, building-technology, electrical, metal-working, and technical-purchasing departments, as well as plant and company management.

“The idea behind staffing it was to have a cross-functional team combining the experience of all departments and to implement missed opportunities of the past in the new building,” Rosenberg said. “The ideal pipe production was planned using all the technical and organizational input of the entire team.”

All 19 extrusion lines now are located on the ground floor of the building. The material supplies, as well as auxiliary and packaging materials, are provided on the upper floor. The material supply is almost fully automated, Rosenberg said. The raw materials are transported directly from the supply silos, which are located outside the building, using seven coupled stations that move the materials through the ducts to the machines.

“All cooling, power, water, and compressed air is supplied directly to the machines through a central supply channel integrated in the floor,” Rosenberg explained. “This allows the respective areas to be clearly separated in a structured way, enabling the focus to be on respective core competencies of the involved teams. All process and building controls (material supply, cooling systems, fresh air, light, and safety engineering) were programmed and managed in house.”

The new 160,000-sq.-ft. Aquatherm manufacturing facility features 19 extrusion lines, has space for a total of 32 lines, and is all concrete to comply with German fire codes that deal with plastics fabrication. In 2016, the company manufactured more than 40,000 km of pipe and 50-million molded/fabricated components out of 18,000 ton of raw materials.

The new 160,000-sq.-ft. Aquatherm manufacturing facility features 19 extrusion lines, has space for a total of 32 lines, and is all concrete to comply with German fire codes that deal with plastics fabrication. In 2016, the company manufactured more than 40,000 km of pipe and 50-million molded/fabricated components out of 18,000 ton of raw materials.


Sustainability has been a core value of the company from the time it was founded more than four decades ago, according to Barry Campbell, vice-president of marketing, Aquatherm North America.

“We believe sustainability is a vital component in a company’s success,” Campbell explained. “That is why we have certified our energy-management system according to DIN EN ISO 50001 and our environmental-management system according to DIN EN ISO 14001. It is also why we are the only piping system in North America that can contribute directly to LEED v4 points. We consistently are working to reduce our consumption of energy, water, and resources, as well as lower the amount of our waste and emissions. For example, in 2015, we saved more than 42 tons of carbon dioxide. We also reduced the consumption of raw materials by more than 288 tons by reusing plastic materials in our production processes.”

Energy savings play into the company’s sustainability picture. “We use the hot water, hot air, and waste heat generated during production processes to heat our state-of-the-art extrusion building, as well as another building,” Rosenberg said. “The total heated area is approximately 15,500 square meters. The system that we have in place is so efficient, we only need additional heating for approximately 10 days a year when production is down during the Christmas holidays.”

The company also started a program to replace the lamps in all of its production and warehouse buildings with LEDs.  “To save energy, we also have installed movement-sensitive lighting in the technical basement of our new extrusion building,” Rosenberg added.

Automation triggers continuous improvement

With constant changes in technology, automation continues to be a crucial element in every one of Aquatherm’s processes.

“Automation gains more and more importance, especially with regard to quality control,” Rosenberg said. “One example is the in-line measurement of pipe-wall thickness. Monitoring data is sent to our control center and displayed as graphics on computer monitors. In the event of an error, a message is sent to the shift supervisor and an alarm warns the lead operator. This allows us to constantly minimize reaction time, helping us to guarantee product quality.”

Additionally, Aquatherm controls many physical parameters—including temperature, speed, and melting behavior—in real time.

“Soon, we will be equipping our maintenance teams with tablets, which will enable them to perform remote maintenance from home on weekends when they are on call,” continued Rosenberg.

To help ensure continuous improvement, the company enhances its automation and technology with old-school methods that still contribute to overall productivity. “We hold meetings at the end of each shift,” Rosenberg said. “In these meetings, we review the shift, analyze what went well, and discuss any issues that need to be addressed. All information is summarized and written in a hand-over report. All of our manufacturing plants communicate regularly and share best practices and, in the end, it’s a combination of all these things that make us a productive and sustainable company.” MT

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc., and has been a professional journalist for 28 years. She specializes in developing content for the industrial processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 41 cities in six countries on three continents. If your facility has a good operational, reliability, and/or maintenance story to tell, please contact her at


3:36 pm
May 15, 2017
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Put Portable Filter Carts to Work

Portable filter carts play a crucial role in equipment uptime by being able to deliver lubricants at the right cleanliness level and transfer and clean oil while machinery runs. (Source: EngTech Industries Inc.)

Portable filter carts play a crucial role in equipment uptime by being able to deliver lubricants at the right cleanliness level and transfer and clean oil while machinery runs. (Source: EngTech Industries Inc.)

Don’t set up a lube program without one or more of these multi-taskers.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK)CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

The ability to control contamination is an important aspect of any lubrication-management program, especially where lubricant cleanliness is concerned. A constant supply of clean oil is essential to lubricant life and, more important, bearing life.

One of the most efficient and practical tools available to ensure lubricant cleanliness is the portable filter cart. In a typical industrial environment, portable filter carts are used to transfer and clean all types of lube, gear, and hydraulic oils. The carts’ three principal applications in a lubrication-management program are:

• transferring oil from its original container into a machine reservoir
• pre-filtering and cleanup of virgin stock (new) oil in preparation for machine use
• reconditioning and cleanup of oil currently in service.

In addition, use of specialized filters on the outlet side can extract any free and emulsified water present in the oil.


The primary function of any filter cart is to filter fluids. A typical cart design will employ a two-stage filtration approach in which a gear pump is connected to both filters. The inlet, or suction, side is the first-stage, low-pressure side (approximately 5 psid) designed to capture larger contaminant particles exceeding 150 microns in size.

Oil is pumped through the inlet filter to the second-stage, high-pressure (approximately 25 psid) outlet (or delivery side) filter designed to capture much smaller particulate matter that can be filtered to less than 5 microns in size, depending on the filter rating used.

Listen to the latest in a series of monthly lubrication-related podcasts with Ken Bannister. The May podcast focuses on the selection of and best practices regarding portable filter carts.

How clean should your oil be?

Oil cleanliness is universally measured using the ISO 4406 cleanliness code rating system. This is a standard that quantifies the number of contaminant particles, 4, 6, and 14 micron in size, that are present in a 1-ml lubricant sample and compares them with a particle concentration range, resulting in an ISO-range number value.

For example, a 19/17/14 lubricant sample value (typical of new oil) translates to the presence of 2,500 to 5,000 particles >4 microns in size, 640 to 1,300 particles >6 microns in size, and 80 to 160 particles >14 microns in size present in the oil sample.

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 10.29.48 AM

When new or virgin stock oil is received from the supplier, many sites believe they are receiving a “ready-to-use” product. This is not always the case, as depicted in the table. New oil is typically received around a 19/17/14 ISO cleanliness level that may only be suitable for non-critical gear systems. All other applications will require the oil to be cleaned and polished by passing it through a filtration system prior to use in service.

The table also notes that “In service” oil dirtier than 19/17/14 is unsuitable for any lubrication or hydraulic system. Such oil will require replacement or cleanup using a kidney loop set-up with a portable filter cart.

The number of passes through the filter cart to achieve the appropriate cleanliness level will depend on the “start” and “finish” cleanliness level and the filter types and rating in use. Oil analysis will be required to establish cleanliness levels. Choosing a suitable combination of pump and filter size/type will require consultation with the filter-cart manufacturer who will need to understand your working environment and type/viscosity of oil(s) you use.

The rate of cleanup (speed) will depend on the reservoir size, pump flow rate, and the cleanliness-rating delta. What can be measured immediately is the time to perform one complete filter pass through the cart, as calculated using the following formula:

(Reservoir size x 7)/filter-cart flow rate =  time for a single-pass filtration

Example: 60 gal. x 7/10 gpm = 42 min. for a single-pass filtration (1 x filtration of reservoir capacity)

If the plant’s lubricants are consolidated and cleanliness levels are known, a matrix can be developed to determine how many passes are required to filter to an acceptable cleanliness level.

Best practices

As in all other facets of maintenance, there are a number of best practices associated with the use of portable filter carts:

• Work with the filter cart supplier to determine the right pump and filter choice for your plant requirements.

• To eliminate cross contamination of lubricants, each filter cart must be dedicated to a single lubricant use for transfer and cleaning of lubricants. Pilot the filter cart program with the most-critical and/or most-utilized plant-lubricant type.

• Always clean the unit after each successful transfer operation, paying particular attention to the wand ends and open drip tray under the filters and pump area. Open oil is a dirt attractant and can be transferred unwittingly if the cart and its components are not kept scrupulously clean.

• Unless specified, most filter carts are sold with open-end transfer wands fitted to the delivery and suction hose ends designed to slide easily into the reservoir openings of the donor and recipient reservoirs. In a program designed to filter contaminants from the oil, this type of delivery fitting can allow moisture and dirt contamination into the respective reservoirs during the transfer process. To combat this, and ensure a contamination-free transfer process, fit the filter cart delivery/return hose ends and reservoir fill/drain ports with quick-lock-style couplings. As the reservoir is now airtight, it will also require a quality desiccant-style breather to be fitted and, in the case of larger capacity reservoir, a closed-loop expansion tank.

• Specify kink-resistant flexible suction and delivery hose to prevent pump cavitation. Clear hoses allow a visual reference of the oil flowing through the lines.

• The cart’s electric motor will require access to electricity. Ensure that an electrical outlet is within easy reach of the unit’s electrical cord. If the cord is short in length, consider mounting a retractable electrical cord caddy on the unit with enough cord length to reach the nearest electrical outlet.

• Paint a lined box similar to a lay-down area as close as possible to the oil reservoir that’s to be serviced. This allows a cart to be positioned and used quickly without obstruction, and within reach of its hose and wand assemblies.

• Place the cart on a preventive-maintenance (PM) check program prior to every use to ensure the unit’s filters don’t go into bypass mode from being too dirty.  MT

Contributing editor Ken Bannister is co-author, with Heinz Bloch, of the book Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities, 3rd Edition (The Fairmont Press, Lilburn, GA). As managing partner and principal consultant for Engtech Industries Inc. (Innerkip, Ontario), he specializes in the implementation of lubrication-effectiveness reviews to ISO 55001standards, asset-management systems, and training. Contact him at, or telephone 519-469-9173.

learnmore2“Lubricant Fundamentals: Lubricant Life-Cycle Management”

“Offline Filtration: Key to Establishing and Maintaining Oil Cleanliness”


6:23 pm
April 13, 2017
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Maintenance Efficiency: Understand It To Drive It

Various factors and measurements affect an organization’s ability to improve workforce efficiencies.

Worker of oil and gas refinery

By Al Poling, RAM Analytics LLC

It’s a given: Maintenance is the largest fixed cost in manufacturing. Maintenance-workforce efficiency has a profound effect on that cost and, in turn, overall business performance. Can that efficiency be improved and, if so, how?

The common metric used to measure this efficiency is wrench time. Research on wrench time has revealed maintenance workforce efficiencies ranging from 18% to 74%. In other words, inefficient maintenance operations will spend exponentially more on maintenance labor than the most efficient operations to complete the same amount of work.

To illustrate the significant financial impact of maintenance workforce efficiency, a highly efficient operation with 74% wrench time spends $100 million/yr. on maintenance labor. A highly inefficient maintenance operation would spend more than four times that amount (or more than $400 million annually) to complete the same volume of work. Translation: The inefficient maintenance operation would waste $300 million a year due to inefficiency.

Critical factors

Numerous factors influence effective use of maintenance labor resources. At the top of any list, however, is a well-defined maintenance-work process. This type of process describes, in detail, each step of maintenance work from identification through execution and closure. Despite claims to the contrary, there is effectively only one universally used maintenance workflow. The five major components are identification, planning, scheduling, execution, and closure:

Identification is the timely pinpointing and prioritization of maintenance work. These activities are performed by equipment operators who use a well-defined work-prioritization matrix or by maintenance coordinators who base priorities on business and related needs.

Planning is formal organization of the work to be done, including scope assessment and identification and procurement of the labor and materials required to complete the job.

Scheduling includes setting the optimum time period in which to complete the planned work. It takes into account the overall resources required at the site and attempts to level the resource load to use normally available maintenance resources.

Execution is the actual hands-on work performed by skilled maintenance craft personnel. This includes company personnel and contract maintenance workers.

Closure involves capturing work history, including critical information on failure modes used to facilitate reliability analysis.

Failure to have or follow a well-defined maintenance-work process results in chaos and, therefore, grossly inefficient resource utilization.

Tools and prep

The next factor that influences maintenance-labor efficiency is the availability of tools and materials required to complete the assigned work. Without that availability, work can’t be completed in a timely manner.

Wrench-time studies consistently reveal that traveling for tools and materials is the most common barrier to maintenance-workforce productivity. If highly skilled (and costly) maintenance-craft personnel have to spend time retrieving tools and materials, it will take significantly longer to complete the work, including possibly delaying completion. It’s troubling why so many organizations depend on highly skilled maintenance resources to perform such mundane work (material and tool transport) rather than assigning those tasks to less costly storeroom and/or delivery personnel.

Next in line as a detrimental impact on maintenance-workforce efficiency is the interface with operations. Equipment must be prepared in advance of maintenance work. Examples include equipment decontamination, lockout/tagout, and work permitting. If these types of tasks aren’t performed in a timely manner, wrench time will suffer. Paying highly skilled maintenance workers to stand around while operators perform such work—that should have been done in advance—is absurd. Yet, as wrench-time studies show, this is a common occurrence in today’s plants.

The culture effect

Empirical evidence suggests that particular work environments, or cultures, are more prone to maintenance workforce inefficiency. At the top of this list is an environment in which unreliable equipment reigns. In this type of reactive environment, it is virtually impossible to achieve high levels of maintenance-workforce efficiency. Unplanned failures, by their very nature, don’t facilitate planning and scheduling, leading to extremely inefficient and expensive reactive corrective work. As if this weren’t bad enough, it is invariably the value of lost production and subsequent lost profit that causes the greatest economic harm to the site and business. Sadly, these costs are often overlooked.

The next environment most prone to maintenance workforce inefficiency is one where maintenance labor costs are low. Southeast Asia, for example, experiences severe inefficiencies—often at appalling levels. In those regions, it’s not unusual to find human labor being utilized instead of equipment. For example, you might find large numbers of maintenance workers with shovels doing the work that a single bulldozer could complete in short order. Sometimes, though, this is by design, i.e., to create more jobs to support a growing middle class. Nonetheless, while it’s an expensive way to operate, the costs can be more easily absorbed due to exponentially lower-skilled maintenance-craft wages.

Surprisingly, highly reliable operations represent yet another, although not necessarily obvious, area where maintenance inefficiencies can be found. In such environments, the business is typically enjoying very high profit margins as a result of achieving maximum production with existing assets.

Of course, it’s human nature for people to focus on what’s important and overlook anything that’s deemed less so. Thus, in a highly reliable production environment, as profits rise, maintenance-cost management can take on a lower sense of urgency. In extreme cases, the inherent inefficiency can lead to anywhere from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary maintenance expense. Interestingly, this situation may also occur in less-reliable operations when the market is tight and profits are high. (It’s not uncommon for managers to remove any maintenance cost controls as long as sales demands are satisfied.)

In both of those scenarios, however, maintenance inefficiency will only be tolerated as long as profit objectives are being met. As soon as market conditions change, pressure will once again be applied to maintenance cost and, subsequently, to maintenance-workforce efficiency. The reaction to this often-sudden change can be quite ugly as arbitrary rules with the potential for unintended consequences, e.g., discontinuing proactive maintenance as a way to reduce maintenance labor costs, are put in place.

Effective measuring

In an ideal production environment, skilled maintenance resources are used efficiently and effectively. As the father of statistical process control W. Edwards Deming advised, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

To ensure that maintenance resources are being efficiently and effectively utilized, they must be measured. Although not used extensively today, the early 20th century methodology of maintenance-work sampling provides an effective means to measure wrench time. (Despite exaggerated claims by some that this sampling is akin to Frederick Taylor’s infamous time and motion studies of the late 19th century, it is not.)

Maintenance-work sampling is simply a statistical tool that, when used effectively, can measure maintenance-workforce productivity. Identification and elimination of barriers to productivity can significantly increase the value-added contribution of existing maintenance resources. Work sampling is the process of capturing and analyzing a statistically valid number of random observations to determine the amount of time, on average, that workers spend in various activities throughout their normal workdays. Non-value-added activities are then targeted for reduction and/or elimination using root-cause analysis.

The maintenance-work sampling approach is based on the proven theory that the percentage of observations made of workers doing a particular activity is a reliable measure of the percentage of total time actually spent by the same workers on the activity. The accuracy of this technique is, naturally, dependent upon the number of observations. To achieve a 95% confidence level in the results, approximately 3,000 observations must be made and recorded. While this might seem excessive, a single trained observer can collect that number of observations during a week of single 8- or 10-hr.maintenance work shifts.

Keep in mind that maintenance-work sampling makes it possible to measure utilization of work groups and the overall maintenance workforce. Key opportunities that warrant attention can be isolated and examined. A good example is that of travel time involved in obtaining requisite maintenance tools and materials and delivering them to where they will be used. That time can be accurately measured and a cost assigned simply by taking the number of total hours consumed by the activity and multiplying by the hourly rate.

Additionally, with maintenance-work sampling, unique factors that affect maintenance wrench time can often be identified. For instance, if inadequate means of communication exist between a work group and the supervisor, valuable time can be wasted tracking each other down. Radios or mobile phones, can solve this problem.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 1.06.43 PM

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 1.07.01 PM

The accompanying charts (Figs. 1 and 2) are based on a real-world case study where work sampling was leveraged to identify and eliminate maintenance-workforce inefficiencies. Figure 1 depicts a decline in non-value-added activities, while Fig. 2 depicts an increase in value-added activities.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 1.07.16 PM

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As these charts show, initial measurement of the site’s maintenance-workforce wrench-time revealed a mere 28% value-added work (wrench time). Through the systematic reduction and/or elimination of non-value-added activities over the course of three years, the wrench time rose to 74%. What really matters here, however, is the recovery of the value of time that was being wasted, as shown in Table I. (Efficiency gains can also be measured in terms of full-time-equivalents, as shown in Table II.)

As part of its development and publication of standard reliability and maintenance metrics, the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP, Atlanta, published its work-management metric, 5.6.1 Wrench Time, in 2009. The stated objective of this metric is “to identify opportunities to increase productivity by qualifying and quantifying the activities of maintenance craft workers.”

The Society also published the SMRP Guide to Maintenance Work Sampling, in 2012. As one of three co-authors, I can state definitively that the intent of this publication was to educate younger reliability and maintenance professionals who had not been exposed to maintenance-work sampling. Although adoption has been slow, several companies are beginning to include this sampling methodology as a valued component in their reliability and maintenance tool kits. Ironically, sites are often introduced to maintenance-work sampling by maintenance contractors who want to demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of the skilled maintenance-craft personnel they provide.

(Editor’s note: SMRP’s Guide to Maintenance Work Sampling is a simple “how to” document that includes statistical tables designed to help users understand the correlation of the confidence level associated with a number of observations. The guide can be purchased for a small fee at The co-authors donated their time to the development and publication of this document and receive no royalties from its sale.)

Last words

While it might be enticing to simply reduce the number of skilled maintenance craft workers on site as wrench time increases, a more prudent path may be to redeploy resources and invest in failure-prevention activities and/or infrastructure.

Increased wrench time may also provide an opportunity to reduce overtime as resources become available and/or to reduce the reliance upon third-party maintenance resources. With today’s critical shortage of skilled maintenance workers, however, displaced workers would likely be able to secure employment elsewhere.

In summary, maintenance wrench time plays a significant role in measuring efficient utilization of skilled maintenance-craft personnel. This valuable metric can be used by any manufacturing operation to ensure that it is realizing the greatest return possible from its investment in human capital. MT

Al Poling, CMRP, has more than 36 years of reliability and maintenance experience in the process industries. He served as technical director for the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals from 2008 to 2010. Contact


6:03 pm
April 13, 2017
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A Hoarder of Information

When it comes to lubrication, Scott Arrington relies on 34 years of information gathering to ensure he always has the correct answer for his customers.

High-tech equipment helps Arrington and his team provide accurate analysis and improve the reliability of all equipment.

High-tech equipment helps Arrington and his team provide accurate analysis and improve the reliability of all equipment.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 12.24.37 PMScott Arrington is a hoarder—a self-described hoarder of information, that is. The World Wide Web is not big enough to hold all the information upon which he relies. In fact, he has so many manuals, binders, and oil samples, he needs two offices—one to work in, and another to contain all the valuable records, documentation, and research he will never throw away.

Arrington is the Lubricants Technical Manager at G&G Oil Company, Muncie, IN. When a customer calls with a question, he wants to be sure he has the correct answer. “I have abundant resources to make sure we make the correct recommendation the first time and can quickly answer questions from customers. I keep all records of opportunities we have already experienced.” 

As a college student, Arrington worked part-time for the company painting convenience stores, bumper poles, and canopies, and performing maintenance.

“It was a great summer job, and it helped me to get familiar with the business,” Arrington said. “When I graduated from Depauw University (Greencastle, IN) in 1986, I was still looking for a full-time job and the owners of G&G Oil (Bill Gruppe, deceased; Hoyt Neal, retired; and Dale Flannery, retired) were gracious enough to allow me to come work for them in a sales position. They helped me get interviews with a couple major oil companies. I received some nice offers, but when I measured what I really wanted to do and where I really wanted to be, staying here was the best option for myself and my family.”

When making that crucial decision, the opportunity to work with people and with a smaller company were key factors.

“When I graduated from college with my science and physics background, I knew I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab,” he explained. “I was looking around at different options and the owners of G&G Oil offered me a position where I could use my science background to help sell lubricating products while not being tied down to a desk. I was able to get out in the field and see many different and interesting mechanical operations. It was something new every day.”   

Thirty-four years later, Arrington remains loyal to G&G Oil, and now makes significant contributions—in particular with his deep technical knowledge and impact on the lubrication and oil-analysis programs. 

1704fvoice04pMajor responsibilities

It is Arrington’s passion to help customers and prospects solve lubricant-related issues. “From my numerous years of experience and attendance at many major oil companies’ learning seminars, I have been able to absorb quite a bit of knowledge to assist companies and individuals with their lubricating problems,” he said. “I can also assist them with ideas and programs to decrease their total lubrication expenses.”

It is Arrington’s responsibility to answer technical questions from customers and prospects, working directly with key accounts, assisting salespeople with technical sales calls, maintaining current formulas and developing new products, maintaining and updating technical data sheets, approving all raw materials used in formulations, and approving new finished products that G&G distributes for other companies. 

Arrington’s team includes a customer-service manager, a logistics manager, a production manager, and a sales manager. He also works closely with the sales representatives to make sure they are supported with sales opportunities and assistance with current customer questions.

Many of the customer’s questions include inquiries about machine recommendations. “Customers will call in with questions about a certain brand of product for a certain machine,” Arrington explained. “I will delve into the exact specifications of the product they are telling me about and come up with a recommendation of a product we represent—whether it is a G&G Oil-branded product, a Shell Oil-branded product, or from many of the other brands of products we distribute. I try to take away the aura of the name of the specific brand, and assure them that if you don’t have that exact brand, the machine will not keel over and die. I educate the customer about my recommended product and that their warranty won’t be voided if they use another product brand. The warranty will still be in good standing by using the specification of the product, and not necessarily the brand of that product, in their machinery.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 12.24.49 PMThe importance of lubrication

Arrington said he lives and breathes with a simple philosophy—“Learn all you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.” For him, the importance of good lubrication is simple.

“If you don’t have proper lubrication in your equipment, it won’t run the way it’s designed, which will lead to unscheduled maintenance opportunities,” he explained. “If your machinery doesn’t run, you can’t make products to sell. If you can’t make products to sell, your business will suffer and you possibly won’t be around very long! If you are using improper lubrication practices, your machinery will not run at the optimum level. Your maintenance costs will go up because you will have to replace components more often and you will have more unscheduled downtime. Your total maintenance spend will increase if you are not using the correct lubrication product and applying it at the right time, or monitoring it at the right times to make sure your machinery is running at its optimum level.”

Arrington recommends the following lubrication best practices:

• Follow OEM instructions.

• Develop an oil-analysis program that emphasizes:

• condition of the machinery
• trending how the machinery is functioning
• tracking excessive wear of components
• information about the oil (oxidation, contaminants, additives).

If you don’t have your own in-house oil-analysis laboratory, partner with a reputable and certified independent oil-analysis provider. Even if you have your own lab you should use an independent lab to occasionally check your results.

• Use different testing procedures to ensure customers can fully see the condition of their machinery.

• Use proper sampling equipment and procedures.

“A good oil-analysis program is like having a blood test for a human. It can tell you if you have problems with a vital organ or some other part of your body that you may need to look into to take medicine for or have surgery,” Arrington said. “It’s the same with oil analysis—it tells you if the ‘organ’ in the machine is running properly or if it needs to be examined or replaced because it may have excessive wear or other problems, causing it not to work to its optimum level. A good oil-analysis program allows you to be proactive to schedule maintenance instead of being reactive to a break down.”



One of Arrington’s biggest challenges, he said, is developing and producing formulas for new products that G&G Oil can offer to its customers. 

“It’s challenging because of the many different obstacles you’re trying to overcome, especially in the metal-working and metal-removal fluids field. You’re trying to formulate a product for the customer that will have a long life span for the fluid, a good clean finish for the part, and will provide long tool life,” Arrington explained.

There are several different types of additives that can be used, depending on what kind of metal is being manipulated or type of operation being performed. “You have to use the correct balance of those additives to give you an optimum performing product,” he said. “I rely heavily on my additive manufacturers to give me guidance. When I have special projects, I consult with them. I design a product in the lab and then collaborate with my suppliers to get their opinion on whether they think it will work or not.  Fortunately they agree with me most of the time! The formulating depends a lot on what the application is. You have a pool of additives and base oils that you know about. It’s just trying to blend them together correctly to give you the best-performing product for the customer.”

Finding inspiration

Learning and then hoarding information provides constant inspiration for Arrington. As an example, he points to the adage, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and feed him for life.” It is advice he implements in his own work, every day.

Arrington has been married to Stephanie for 20 years and has two teen-aged daughters, MiMi and Ellie. He gives similar advice to his children.

“I’m sure they get tired of it,” he said. “I try to give them advice of the failures I have had in the past—no matter how big or how small—and remind them how important it is to learn from them. I also try to get them to look at the big picture. I want them to see the repercussions of their actions. It may seem like a small thing, but it could be a big thing down the road. I try to be a great representative of myself and my family and my company. My children are growing up in a different time with different challenges and problems, but we all need to learn from history and our mistakes.” MT

Michelle Segrest is a professional journalist and specializes in the industrial processing industries. If you know of a maintenance and/or reliability expert who is making a difference at their facility, send her an email at